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Alvarez probe into Quinn “slush fund” may be part of broader local investigation

Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014

* Tribune

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has launched a probe of a troubled $55 million anti-violence program Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn put in place in 2010 amid a tough election battle.

A grand jury issued a subpoena seeking documents related to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative Program, which funneled money to various community groups in what Quinn billed as an effort to target crime in some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

Republican critics contend the program was a slush fund designed to shore up support for Quinn in heavily Democratic Cook County, while a recent scathing state audit found the initiative was “hastily implemented” and failed to track how taxpayer dollars were spent.

Alvarez sought documents pertaining to the names and identities of those who received grants under the program, as well as copies of all payment invoices and related audits and compliance reports.

* The Sun-Times broke the story and shares what may be the most important part of the grand jury probe

The request was issued to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on March 19 and sought records tied to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative — including those for the Chicago Area Project, a program tied to the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.

The Sun-Times previously reported that almost seven percent of the $2.1 million in funds given to the Chicago Area Project meant to combat crime in West Garfield Park went to Brown’s husband, Benton Cook III.

Actually, the state’s attorney went out of her way to point in Brown’s and Cook’s direction

Correspondence from Alvarez’s office asked for “names and identities of all grantees participating in the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, including, but not limited to Chicago Area Project.”

* From that earlier Sun-Times story

In 2011 and 2012, the West Side [Garfield Park] neighborhood got more than $2.1 million from Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration through his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, state records show.

But instead of all that public money going toward quelling the shooting and other violence there, a substantial chunk of it — almost 7 percent — appears to have gone into the pocket of the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.

Benton Cook, Brown’s spouse, was paid more than $146,401 in salary and fringe benefits from state grant funds to serve as the program coordinator with the Chicago Area Project, the agency the Quinn administration put in charge of doling out anti-violence funding to West Garfield Park, state records show. […]

Separately, Cook is at the center of a newly opened investigation by Cook County’s inspector general into a June 2011 deal in which he was given land on the South Side for free by a campaign donor to his wife.

A Better Government Association/Fox 32 investigation published in the Sun-Times found that Cook, once he’d obtained the land, added his wife’s name to the property’s deed, conveyed it to a corporation they both own, then sold it for $100,000. Brown never disclosed the transaction on her county economic interest statement.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

51 Comments
  1. - Upon Further Review - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:31 am:

    Years ago, an activist from the Western suburbs told me not to trust the “populist” rhetoric from Pat Quinn. He claimed that when push came to shove Quinn was no different that the others. Populism was just a sales gimmick for him. Power was his real motivator.


  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    Alvarez? Not sure what to make about that. I figured the federales would be on this by now. Are they not interested? That’s hard to believe.

    Regardless, this is really big trouble for Quinn. After reading the audit, about the most generous conclusion you can reach is knee-jerk incompetence regarding this program. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to consider other, sinister, possibilities.

    Let the chips fall where they may. But this is going to sting.


  3. - Upon Further Review - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    Typo: “no different than the others.”


  4. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    Follow the money, and if it gets “Hot”, who is going to be looking for seats on the Bus first.

    It may turn out Quinn should have had more “buffers” before this is done(?)

    Advice? Answer completely truthfully, do not go in without counsel, don’t over embellish, don’t overtly deny the provable, and the 5th Amendment is “your friend”, until you get immunity, than spill everything under the immunity, parking tickets included.

    Major factor in Governor’s Race. It’s April, and the impact could be like a pea soup fog for the Governor. Nothing good here.


  5. - A guy... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:38 am:

    Desperate men do desperate things. Millions wasted and a murder rate still too high. If not for a Siberian winter, it’d be even worse. This looks bad…because it is bad. Really bad.


  6. - Cassandra - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:40 am:

    Since Quinn is heavily focused on raising my income taxes permanently, I am, of course, really annoyed by this non-violence initiative scandal and I hope it is thoroughly investigated by the Democrats, even if Quinn is one of their own.

    But…how much would a program coordinator normally make in this CAP organization. Was this salary for one year or two. Didn’t the domestic violence agency distributing the funds provide any oversight over salary charges to the grant. Don’t most of these grants have monitors, whose salaries are funded by taxpayers. Where were the monitors. Need more context here. Of course, context may not make the whole mess look better. Could look worse, in the end, if inflated salaries are routine in the government grant world. A world that, in my opinion, needs a whole lot more sunlight.


  7. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:44 am:

    But there is nothing left to cut in state government, right? [Sarcasm]


  8. - Wondering Woman - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    I recall a similar scheme involving CAP under Blago; the Summer Youth Employment Program. Less money involved, but same basic set up involving grant money used for summer work for youth on the west side involving IDOT and DHS. I remember wondering at the time why the feds didn’t seem to be interested.


  9. - A guy... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    ===Just Observing - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:44 am:

    But there is nothing left to cut in state government, right? [Sarcasm]===

    This crystallizes the thoughts of the vast majority of people who hear about these wastes.


  10. - Almost the Weekend - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:51 am:

    146,401 straws that broke the camel’s back


  11. - Whalewatcher - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:51 am:

    i hear that it goes to the approps house committee that force barbara Shaw to retire… and now this? just follow the paper people,,,hmmn….


  12. - Rob Roy - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:52 am:

    Once, twice three times a lady.


  13. - Upon Further Review - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:57 am:

    @Wondering Woman:

    With Blagojevich there was a smorgasbord of corruption to investigate. I think the Feds may have simply picked over the offerings and did not load their plates — much to the relief of some politicians formerly associated with Blago.


  14. - Oneman - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:58 am:

    Well I think we know who is going to be the handy scapegoat for this now…


  15. - Robo - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 9:59 am:

    Many will die to save the king.


  16. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:00 am:

    ==But there is nothing left to cut in state government, right? [Sarcasm]==

    The things they choose to cut have been cut to the bone so that the things that should be cut don’t have to be cut.


  17. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:01 am:

    Classic incompetence = classic Quinn


  18. - Oneman - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    Did a FOIA on one thing in this program, based off what they could provide me the one thing that can save them all is a lack of records…


  19. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:12 am:

    One commonly used tactic to protect the corrupt has been to open an “investigation” in the Cook States Attorney’s office to keep the Feds out. There’s an unwritten rule that the Feds won’t get involved in a case under investigation by the State’s attorney.

    I found out about this ploy back in my old community in SW Cook County. A friend of mine on our school board, a CPA, found evidence that our maintenance manager was writing a bunch of small checks that added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to family members and employees of outside companies he owned for “materials” for which he had no receipts or detailed explanation.

    On the advice of his attorney, he turned all the materials he had over to the States and US attorneys offices, giving it to the State’s attorney’s office first. That was his big mistake.

    The US attorney’s office told him they thought it was prosecutable, but they would wait for the State’s attorney’s office to finish their investigation first.

    The State’s attorney’s office eventually closed their “investigation”, one week after the statute of limitations had run out for the offense.

    I know another person who made the mistake of signing as a petition circulator for her mom, who had a stroke after getting the signatures. Sure it was a mistake, but Anita charged her with a felony and she had to plea bargain to stay out of jail, and part of the bargain was to never circulate petitions or get involved in such actions (or politics) again.

    Funny thing. I’m not aware of Anita EVER prosecuting all the petition fraud that goes on for south side elections, let alone prosecuting an anti TIF petition drive case as happened in this situation.

    Could this all just be window dressing to keep the Feds out until after the election?

    Whenever I expect the worst from Cook pols, they unfortunately live up to my expectations.


  20. - Sir Reel - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:18 am:

    I can’t wait for Governor Pander to bluster, “We have zero tolerance for mischief! The people of the Great State of Illinois deserve the best. In that vein, I’m announcing a new program to …”


  21. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:25 am:

    ===I’m not aware of Anita EVER prosecuting all the petition fraud that goes on for south side elections===

    Not sure about Anita but Dick Devine did an overtly political prosecution of former Rep. Wanda Sharp.

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-04-18/news/0004180143_1_sharp-petitions-signatures


  22. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:49 am:

    What if we let the state’s attorney investigate into why $54,000,000 disappeared without questioning their motives for doing so?

    We’re out $54,000,000. That should be enough for even hard core Quinn partisans to back off any political attacks, right?


  23. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:51 am:

    Based on her previous performance, I am concerned about whether Alvarez can or will do this particular job with integrity.

    It makes me sad to say or even have to think that.


  24. - Walter Mitty - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    We all need to begin to warm to the idea of Governor Rauner… It may not be such a bad thing after all is said and done. Rauner does not have to make the case Quinn is a career politician and corrupt. His campaign is smart to let facts speak for themselves. His campaign will remind the voters when it is time. This is truly a death blow. When the truth or stories come out, I stand by it even more difficult for rank and file teachers to come out in droves to support. I would venture to guess, it may even be difficult for their leadership to even support PQ. That would be an easy PR issue for the regular voters to drive a vote for change..If they needed more…. It puts a pretty big stumbling block in the support.. So no increase on tax vote.. Coincidence? I think not. We are made fun of and low satisfaction polls do not need to be explained any further.


  25. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    AB, you’re unwritten rule is hardly a rule. The federales asked Lisa to step down when they were going after Blago.


  26. - Louis G. Atsaves - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 10:58 am:

    What is troubling is Quinn’s reputation for being a hands on type who calls the shots during his election campaigns. If true, then this could be real trouble for him. He has always been a positive contrast to prior convicted governors in terms of being ethical and honest. Raising administrative problems as a defense doesn’t help him politically either, as the Rauner campaign keeps focusing on him being a “poor leader” type. Seems like a lose/lose situation developing around him on this matter right about now. Coupled with an opponent who has unlimited funds to exploit the situation, this could spell serious trouble for Governor Quinn.

    I don’t buy the theory raised that Alvarez’ investigation is somehow cover for Quinn. She is up for reelection soon and any perception that she tanked a corruption investigation against an Illinois Governor of the same political party would make it difficult for her.


  27. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:04 am:

    –I don’t buy the theory raised that Alvarez’ investigation is somehow cover for Quinn. –

    Me neither. Politicians aren’t pals. They don’t stick their necks out like that for each other. They look out for themselves first.

    I was kind of surprised she picked up the ball, at all. Look-sees into the governor’s office have been the province of the U.S. Attorney, if memory serves.


  28. - Walker - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:05 am:

    This could stick a dagger into Quinn’s biggest saving grace. It’s often said: “Quinn might have some weaknesses, but at least he’s clean, and he means well.” That image would be tough to lose.

    Rauner’s similar image strength, and potential Achille’s heel, would be his business success, and why that makes him capable of governing. Expect that to be attacked.


  29. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:11 am:

    iirc, the Inspector General’s findings on Blago’s 2008 $7.8 million summer jobs program were referred to the Attorney General. In that case, which parallels this one, the A.G. then referred all findings to the feds.

    Does anyone have any idea why Alvarez is running point on this in Illinois instead of the A.G.? I would trust Lisa Madigan to do a more thorough and fair job on this one.


  30. - Oneman - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    . She is up for reelection soon and any perception that she tanked a corruption investigation against an Illinois Governor of the same political party would make it difficult for her.

    Not in Cook County


  31. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:15 am:

    Walker - I could not agree more.

    Quinn has often been portrayed as a well-meaning guy who didn’t always know what he was doing.

    This makes Quinn look like he knew exactly what he was doing. It pops the balloon of that previous portrayal.


  32. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:21 am:

    Speaking of which: does the Cook County GOP even have anyone to run against Brown yet?

    Or are they going to trash a chance at a picking up an office which may wind up gift-wrapped and ready for delivery to them?


  33. - Kansas Komet - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:36 am:

    This is a dagger to Quinn.

    Rauner will be able to use “under federal investigation” the entire campaign. It will diminish attacks on him and taint BS program Quinn will tout this year.

    Unlike previous GOP nominees, he has the money to drive the message.

    A huge development in the race.


  34. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:38 am:

    –Rauner will be able to use “under federal investigation” the entire campaign. –

    Do you have some inside dope? Is Quinn under federal investigation?


  35. - Oneman - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 11:52 am:

    Don’t you at this point get an assistant US attorney assigned to you when you become Governor of Illinois?


  36. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:11 pm:

    @Rich
    =Not sure about Anita but Dick Devine did an overtly political prosecution of former Rep. Wanda Sharp.=

    That certainly is more the rule than the exception in the Cook SA office regarding “corruption” prosecution. Does the name Myrna Jurcev ring any bells?


  37. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:15 pm:

    Yeah - in Illinois, we have never elected a gubernatorial candidate that was under investigation before.

    Well, not since 1998 - I mean, 2006.


  38. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:16 pm:

    @Louis

    =I don’t buy the theory raised that Alvarez’ investigation is somehow cover for Quinn. She is up for reelection soon and any perception that she tanked a corruption investigation against an Illinois Governor of the same political party would make it difficult for her.=

    She’ll have no primary opponent and the GOP won’t devote any resources, or perhaps even a token candidate, to this race.

    Short of committing a felony herself, she’s at no risk of losing her job if she wants to keep it.


  39. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:20 pm:

    ==Alvarez? Not sure what to make about that.==

    I know what to make of it, and it’s that I don’t trust any investigation led by Anita “The Innocent are Guilty” Alvarez.

    ==She is up for reelection soon and any perception that she tanked a corruption investigation against an Illinois Governor of the same political party would make it difficult for her.==

    “Soon” is 2016. That 2016 November election is over 2 years away.


  40. - orzo - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:39 pm:

    Neither Alvarez or Brown are on the ballot this year. Both are up in 2016, and if they run, I would expect neither will have a free ride in either the primary or the general. Alvarez’s star has faded some, and Brown has made many enemies, some because of a perceived integrity problem, and some because of her failed runs at other offices.


  41. - Anon - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:48 pm:

    I’m curious how the Sun-Times got ahold of the subpoenas and knows all about the investigation, since grand juries are supposed to be done in secrecy last time I checked?


  42. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 12:49 pm:

    Anon, they filed a FOIA.


  43. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 1:05 pm:

    PC, I’m just not sure that the state’s attorney’s office has the resources to chase down all the paper in this.

    Put it this way: If there’s a funny money investigation going on, I’d rather have the state’s attorney on me than the combined resources of the Justice Department, FBI and IRS.


  44. - Upon Further Review - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 2:11 pm:

    Given Dorothy Brown’s baggage, I wonder if she will draw a Democratic primary opponent in her next race?


  45. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 2:43 pm:

    == “Soon” is 2016. ==

    Precinct Captain - agreed. That “soon” is not nearly soon enough.


  46. - A guy... - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 3:38 pm:

    This office is aging Anita. 2016 might not come soon enough for her.


  47. - Cassandra - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 5:21 pm:

    Maybe Alvarez is considering a run for governor. On TV, it seems as though that’s the office all state’s attys are aiming for. And Quinn has promised to only run for one more term…


  48. - The Prince - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 6:01 pm:

    Who is the last county state’s attorney who became governor?


  49. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 7:19 pm:

    Politically, not good.

    However, I would point out that former US Attorney Z. Scott, who was pretty highly regarded during her tenure as Inspector General.

    It would be pretty shocking if she were involved in any misuse of public funds and pretty surprising if it went on underneath her nose.

    I have reviewed the tax returns for Chicago Area Project and did spot a few eyebrow raisers.

    As others have pointed out, even if there is a clean bill issued, the damage is done to Quinn and will likely be worse. There are 1000 Asst States Attorneys in Cook…every turn in the investigation will be in the Sun Times.


  50. - The Prince - Wednesday, Apr 30, 14 @ 8:32 pm:

    If the Sun-Times lasts that long.


  51. - grayelephant - Thursday, May 1, 14 @ 7:42 am:

    This continuing investigation into this most pernicious problem is unsettling. To think that pols would exploit the failures of society converged into urban gang violence for personal gain is abhorrent. Has anyone scrutinized the roles of the former IDPH assistant director and the cronies that placed her? There bas been so much statewide smoke around her it’s a wonder she is not yet being discussed in this investigation. She WAS the gov-appointed commish and while reportedly involved with all manner of indiscretions at the agency with great impunity, it is beginning to appear she was also involved with alleged malfeasance in the NRI rollout. For those who truly seek palpable and lasting solutions to today’s violence, we can only hope that current speculations are not borne in truth via a federal grand jury.


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